Humans are at root social creatures. We have a need to relate and to belong. Thus, the popularity of social media on-line. The neighbourhood pub or cafe. Gathering together for celebrations, sports, and memorials.
For many of us, we define ourselves by the people we associate with and by how others have treated us or told us we are. This is a strong aspect of the identity, the ego-self we use to relate with the world.
If we listen to the stories we tell ourselves that run through our mind, it’s easy to see some of that. We remind ourselves of our role all the time. I’m this or that, can or can’t do this or that, and so on.
For most people on earth, a big part of that is their faith. Their primary belief system, one often prescribed to them by the family and culture into which they were born. In the west, we may reject this but will commonly come up with something else instead. We’ll believe in science or new age or some other framework to define ourselves and our relationship with the world.
Even if we call ourselves atheists or non-believers, this is still a belief. The mind cannot function without developing beliefs about the world and it’s much easier to choose a predefined set. Could you even get out of bed in the morning if you were not confident the floor would be there? How would you go to sleep at night if you were uncertain you’d wake up again?
Beliefs are fine if they help us make sense of the world. And they’re not held too firmly to allow for new information. A problem arises when we define ourselves too much by our belief system. If what we believe is right, anyone who believes something else must be wrong. Framed like that, another belief system is a threat to my well-being making them an enemy. When we make them wrong, we can justify all sorts of things against another, forgetting they are simply other humans developing beliefs based on their own experiences and background. It doesn’t help that the media tends to highlight differences and what’s wrong with others.
Awhile back, I wrote about the need for something deeper than tolerance if we were to find peace. Tolerance still implies we believe something better. When conflict arises, tolerance flies out the window. This is why we must find peace within if we are to find peace in the world. As long as we are threatened by anothers ideas, we will fail to see our commonality. As long as we relate to the world through a judging ego-self, we will see the world as an us vs them.
The same thing happens between a teenager and their parents. To find their own truth, they reexamine and begin to pull away from parents to “find themselves” as adults.
I’ve also seen this in many spiritual circles and traditions. Meditators who dismiss any other practice as useless. New Thought churches where someone who likes another church is seen as a threat. Traditional churches where they invite everyone but see others as in need of conversion or correction.
Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the light”. This is taken to mean this church is the only way and anything else is Satan. This fails to recognize Jesus is saying he’s become One and there is no other. Not that anything else is bad but that it’s all one. We are all that oneness. “Only” is the real Satan as it makes the ego that divides stronger.
It’s the reason they suggest you not talk politics or religion at social events. This is especially true if someone has not considered their faith and is threatened by any discussion (defense) of something nebulous in their own mind. It can be scary to realize what you base your sense of self on is a pretty empty space.
Recently, I ran into a book called “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith.” Interfaith is a focus on “inclusive spirituality”. What is common to all faiths, especially the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as they share common roots. The authors are a Pastor, a Rabbi, and a Sheikh.
Rather than focusing on differences (the ego, what’s wrong), they focus on universalities, what we all share. From a point of commonality, no one is wrong. Differences can then be embraced and there is no need to believe the same things.
Early in the book, they introduce the 5 stages of an Interfaith journey. I thought this was interesting as it strongly reflects what I’ve seen in many peoples journeys. There is a natural cycle where the newbie matures in understanding and at some point outgrows the teaching. If the organization is not structured to handle this, they may fall or drift away.
Sometimes, this can be a difficult separation. Even a rejection of the teaching, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But at some point, they find their new ground and the role the teaching had in their journey. The teaching may then regain its role but perhaps in a more distant way. Perhaps enjoying the community but not engaging so deeply. It depends on the nature of the organization and the persons own path.
The 5 stages of an Interfaith journey:
1 – Moving beyond separation and suspicion
2 – Inquiring more deeply
3 – Sharing both the easy and difficult parts
4 – Moving beyond safe territory
5 – Exploring spiritual practices from other traditions
I’ve seen this process in many people and myself. Understanding it can help it go much smoother for everyone.
Note that these are personal stages but they may also be implemented in a community as a whole. Results will vary by participants willing to make the journey. But I’ve found it a good sign when a community quotes from many sources and blends many teachings.
I have also noted this coming together is getting stronger over time. Communities of all kinds are getting less exclusive and more inclusive. And we’re all the richer for it.
I look forward to reading the rest of the book.